Adam Van Winkle’s Abraham Anyhow: Award-winning Literature by an SIU Alum

Adam Van Winkle’s Abraham Anyhow:  Award-winning Literature by an SIU Alum

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SIU grad and Cairo High School English teacher Adam Van Winkle saw his novel Abraham Anyhow (Red Dir
Dustin Duncan

SIU grad and Cairo High School English teacher Adam Van Winkle saw his novel Abraham Anyhow (Red Dirt Press, 148 pages, paperback, $15.95) published in April, highlighted by the Southern Literary Review as the June Read of the Month, and recently learned his novel was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Van Winkle describes Abraham Anyhow as two projects coming together, and an attempt to create a fictional universe surrounded by “Texoma,” the name locals have given the northern Texas/southern Oklahoma border. He is a graduate of Whitesboro High School in Texas, a town sporting a population of about 3,793 people.

Van Winkle said he followed the path of authors Larry McMurtry and Donald Ray Pollock, who have taken their hometown areas and made fictional universes about them.

“I was doing that with my short stories,” he said, “so it seemed like a natural fit for a longer book.”

Van Winkle’s dad was the mayor of a small town Oakland, Oklahoma, with a population of 674. He said his dad negotiated against a highway deal that would have caused his town to use imminent domain to acquire property in his and other towns. In reality, the deal never happened, but Van Winkle’s book is a fictionalized version of what would have 
if it did.

He classified the book as “grit-lit,” saying it’s about people who find themselves on the hard side of life, instead of the heroic side, while having all the same flaws as everyday people.

“All of my characters have something in their past that is holding them back, either because of guilt or anxiety, or the family structure raised them in such a way,” Van Winkle said. “The idea is that the way these characters move and do things are like the people I grew up with, not characters that are made for a story.”

The book isn’t without references to Southern Illinois as well. Actually, Van Winkle said there are about two or three Southern Illinois ties. He specifically mentioned a scene in the book where the father and son reunite after several years, and the book references Cobden.

Van Winkle obtained his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Texas Agricultural and Mechanical, then made the move to Southern Illinois for a graduate degree in English, studying literature. At SIU, he met his wife, Constance, and after graduating, the couple moved to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to teach English. After a short time, they moved to Chicago and continued teaching. Eventually, Constance wanted to go back to school for her doctoral degree, and they ended up back at SIU.

Upon the return to Southern Illinois, Van Winkle said he zeroed in, teaching at Cairo, where he said the skills he developed in Chicago translated well. In addition, he said writing in Southern Illinois has been a pleasure. While in Chicago, he wrote in a basement, which wasn’t terrible; however, he said, starting at sunrise, writing on his front porch in Cobden while staring off into the woods, feels a lot better.

“People in Southern Illinois are a lot more like the people I grew up with than in Chicago, which helped spark something in my head for the stories,” he said.

Van Winkle said readers can find Abraham Anyhow at just about online bookstore. And be on the lookout for the second book of the trilogy, While They Are in the Field, which Van Winkle said is finished, though he hasn’t yet set a a publication date.

 

In addition to being a new novelist, Van Winkle and his wife are also the founders and editors of Cowboy Jamboree, classified by Van Winkle as a grit-lit magazine focused on the rural working class and revisionist western writing.